‘Tis the season of endless Jewish holidays, back to school frenzy, an abundance of apples…and also niche Jewish cookbooks. With the releases of The Book of Schmaltz: Love Song to a Forgotten Fat and Nosh on This: Gluten-Free Baking from a Jewish American Kitchen we add two fascinating but narrowly focused cookbooks to the collection.
I love schmaltz, and so I was pretty excited to receive a copy of The Book of Schmaltz. You should know: I keep several kinds of schmaltz in my freezer at any given moment, and love to find ways to incorporate it into a variety of dishes, so this book couldn’t be more perfect for a fat-lovin’ gal like me.
The book contains recipes for all the classics you would expect including traditional chopped liver, chicken soup with matzo balls, and kreplach. Some of the more surprising recipes included in the book are schmaltz-roasted potatoes with onion and rosemary, chicken sausage and even oatmeal cookies with dried cherries (I will be trying this recipe very soon).
Ever heard of helzel? Well I hadn’t until I saw it listed under “Traditional Recipes.” Ruhlman’s version calls for stuffing kiskhe into chicken skin – yum! Though when my husband and I called the grandmothers to consult about this long–lost dish we heard that their versions of traditional helzel was prepared by stuffing a turkey neck. In fact, my Grandma Phoebe shared that her grandmother (my great-great grandmother) would include helzel in her weekly Shabbat cholent .
But before James Beard Award-winning author Michael Ruhlman gets into the recipes themselves, he actually gives a easy-to-follow guide to making your own homemade, perfectly rendered chicken fat – very useful indeed especially for the schmaltz virgin.
What a great gift for any of your family or friends who loves traditional Ashkenazi fare and isn’t afraid a little fat.
The Book of Schmaltz: Love Song to a Forgotten Fat, Michael Ruhlman and Donna Turner Ruhlman, (August 2013)
Schmaltz is not the only ingredient I gush over: I also gush for gluten. I have written before about my distaste for the gluten-free fad we are currently experiencing. But I do feel for my fellow gluten lovers who are unable to consume gluten-laden products due to medical reasons, which includes authors Lisa Stander-Horel and Tim Horel, two bakers dedicated to high-quality gluten-free baked goods. Their cookbook Nosh on This was also just released.
“The tragic irony is that we Jews are a people with an extensive repertoire of high-gluten delicacies, many of which we regard as cultural icons. We even have special prayers that we say before eating pastry.”
I never thought of it in this way but it is true: we are a people who value breads and sweets. So what is a gluten-free Jew to do!? In Lisa Stanger-Horel and Tim Horel’s case, they perfected a wide range of baked goods including Jewish classics like chocolate babka, honey cake, challah, rugelach and hamantaschen. Some other stand-outs? “Marizipany Gooey Brownies,” apple pie, and even éclairs and tiramisu.
Love eating matzo at Passover but can’t handle the gluten? They’ve got a recipe for that too.
For the Jewish baker the ultimate compliment is always, “it’s so good, it doesn’t even taste pareve.” These recipes look as mouth-watering as their gluten-laden counterparts. What a wonderful cookbook for the baker in your life who needs to stay away from gluten.
Nosh on This: Gluten-Free Baking from a Jewish American Kitchen, Lisa Stander-Horel and Tim Horel (September 3, 2013)
The first bread I ever learned to bake was challah. My grandmother was a rebbetzin famous for her glorious displays of baked goods, including challah. Once I started baking myself, my favorite time of the week was Shabbat dinner, when we’d lift the cover to reveal my braided loaves. We would all sigh, stomachs rumbling.
After a year of creative exploration of the wonderful world of bread baking, my one-woman gluten fest came to a rather rude end. I had been ignoring my chronic stomach pains and bloating, and though my celiac test came back negative, I opted to try a gluten-free diet and see how it went. Both to my dismay and relief, my pains subsided, my energy level increased, and I began to feel more like myself again. I swore off bread and wallowed in self-pity for a short while until I was pushed to at least try baking gluten-free bread. I soon discovered wonderful and tasty gluten-free flours, some made from grains I’d never even heard of.
After crafting this basic gluten-free bread recipe, I went off to create a challah recipe that would make my grandmother proud and would even be worthy of hamotzi and hafrashat challah, the blessing over separating and ritually burning a small piece of bread (also known as “taking challah”). See “Challah Back,” my rabbinic source sheet all about challah baking!
According to Jewish law, challah can only be “taken” if it is made from one of the five grains named in the Bible: barley, rye, wheat, oat, spelt. Bread made from other grains can be kosher, but you cannot say hamotzi over it, nor can you take challah from it. These five grains are precisely the grains that gluten-free eaters avoid. The one exception to this rule is oat, which can be gluten-free for some* if it is grown, harvested, and processed separately from wheat. A rabbi I consulted suggested that while no teshuva (responsum) has yet been written on this topic, the oat flour must be at minimum 51% of the total flour in the bread.
Based on these requirements, I put together the recipe below (using this amazing Kaiser Braided Loaf Pan). Enjoy!
1 package active dry yeast (about 1 Tbsp)
1 1/4 cups warm water
1/4 cup honey (85 grams)
2 eggs (egg-free version: 2 tbsp flax seeds blended with 6 tbsp warm water until frothy)
1/4 cup (50 grams) grapeseed or other vegetable oil
1 tsp cider vinegar
2 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp xanthan gum
1 cup (140 grams) tapioca flour/starch
1⁄2 cup (40 grams) coconut, quinoa, brown rice, teff, or other gluten-free flour (note: if you use teff flour, you can reduce your xanthan gum to 2 tsp).
Place the yeast and honey in the bottom of the bowl. Cover with the warm water and whisk for 30 seconds to dissolve the yeast.
Let the yeast foam and bubble for a few minutes. Mix in wet ingredients first (eggs, oil, vinegar) and then add the flours, salt, and xanthan gum. Mix well. Add raisins if you like. Pour into a lightly oiled 9×5 loaf pan and smooth the top. Cover with a clean dishtowel and let rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
15 minutes before it’s finished rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the dishtowel and bake until golden brown, about 40 to 45 minutes. Let it cool for a few minutes out of the oven in the pan before removing. Remove to a cooling rack and let cool 30 minutes before slicing.
Gluten-free bread dough is usually a similar texture to cake batter, which is not braidable. I have this braided loaf pan to trick people into thinking I actually braided this challah. But any loaf pan will do!
*Note: There are some celiacs who cannot digest oats, so I realize this recipe will not work for those folks.
I like to say that baking is chemistry, and gluten-free baking is a science.
The secret to baking gluten-free goodies that are very close to the real thing lies in producing the “stretch factor” without gluten and using the right mix of gluten-free flours.
Creating the Illusion of Gluten
Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye and spelt that creates the “stretch factor” in batters and dough. Adding xanthan gum, guar gum, or psyllium husk to the mix helps create the same stretchy properties, and results in a chewy rather than crumbly baked good.
The Right Mix
In general, a mix of gluten-free flours will always be better than a single gluten-free flour. This is because no gluten-free flour can closely mirror glutinous all-purpose flour.
The gluten-free flours I use most frequently are sorghum, millet, brown rice, and tapioca. To add richness, I also sometimes add almond or hazelnut meal into the mix. A lot of my recipes have been developed through trial-and-error, but there are also many resources online for gluten-free baking.
I buy my own flours separately and combine them in different ratios depending on the recipe, but there are also some great gluten-free flour mixes out there: My favorite brand for all of my gluten-free flours is Bob’s Red Mill and Namaste is a close second. You can find gluten-free flours at most mainstream grocery stores these days, although it is usually cheaper to order them online.
Gluten-free baking is a bit more complex than glutinous baking, but I promise the results are so much better than store-bought gluten-free baked goods.
These yogurt mini-muffins are the perfect grab-and-go breakfast or snack, packed with whole grains and protein. I offer two mix-in options below (coconut-chocolate chip and cranberry-pistachio), but feel free to add other nuts, dried fruit, or sweet morsels of your choosing. This is recipe is adapted from the Kitchn.
1 cup sorghum
1/2 cup millet
1/2 cup tapioca
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp xanthan gum
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
For coconut-chocolate chip:
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup pistachios
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and grease a mini-muffin tin (if you have convection, use it!).
In a mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, milk, yogurt, and vanilla until smooth.
Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Stir in chosen mix-ins.
Divide batter evenly into muffin tin (I use my medium cookie scoop) and bake for 15-18 minutes until tops are golden brown and firm. Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container on the counter for 3-4 days or in the refrigerator for up to a week.